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Locals Help Save Osprey


October 15, 2014

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Members of Decatur Local 146 proudly exhibit the freshly-installed hacking tower constructed to shelter young osprey, currently on the state’s list of endangered species.

Shad Etchason, business manager of Decatur, Ill., Local 146, had received prior requests for volunteer work on residences. The local has participated in Habitat for Humanity and other efforts.


But then Etchason, president of the Decatur Building and Construction Trades Council, received a call from the state’s Department of Natural Resources for assistance building a temporary, but elaborate, residence to help restore habitat for osprey, a fish-eating hawk and one of the state’s endangered species. The osprey population began falling in the 1960s when widespread use of the pesticide DDT had made bird eggs thinner and vulnerable to breaking.

So Etchason reached out to Jason Drake, training director of Midstate Electrical Training Center. He knew Drake loved to build and design things, including houses, the people kind.

After consulting with the natural resources staff and a representative from the University of Ill. Springfield Environmental Studies Department,  it was decided they needed a hacking tower, a shed 12 feet off the ground on poles where young birds imported from Joint Base Langley-Eustis near Newport, Va., could reside for until they left the new homes for good, having adopting the region as their own.

The base, where ospreys are abundant, supplies the birds free of charge, seeking to reduce their population to avoid interference with military aircrafts.

“I did some design work and got the materials together,” says Drake. Within eight days, Drake and his crew had built a 12x16-foot deck and had prefabricated an 8x10-foot shed with a “bird door” consisting of ¾” PVC conduit. The door is opened to release the birds.

Members of the Painters went to work painting the structure. Then Drake convinced a Caterpillar rental outlet to donate the use of a Caterpillar TL 1255 Telehandler all-terrain fork truck to help erect poles and install the deck and shed on a Saturday.

“We were working in a lake basin with odd, cake-like soil, and it was getting ready to rain,” said Drake, who was concerned that if the installation wasn’t completed in time the truck could end up buried in the turf.

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Building trades members lifted the 4,500-pound deck and birdhouse onto the main support beams using a Caterpillar TL1255 Telehandler all-terrain forklift truck donated by a rental company

Assisted by a member of the Laborers, two biologists and four other electricians, including Etchason, Membership Development coordinator Josh Sapp, and two third-year apprentice inside wiremen, CJ Leming and Tyler Pieszchalski, Drake coordinated the quick installation.

 Using shackles and lifting straps supplied by Ironworkers, the crew used the TL 1255 to lift the Drake 4,500-pound deck and bird house together onto the main support beams of the structure before the rains came.

“I wasn’t real excited about this job on the front end,” says Drake, who was busy administering training. “But I felt good about what we accomplished and I was happy to help the DNR and U of I folks help save the osprey,” he says.

Drake is anxious to hear what happens to his new neighbors. Five young osprey from Virginia arrived in June. After approximately two weeks in their new house, the hawks were expected to have enough courage to fly.

Tracked by satellites, some of the birds, also known as the “fish-hawk,” will spend their winters as far away as South America. It could take three years before they finally bring back mates and begin to reproduce.

“Our partners provide additional expertise and help us make the best use of funds entrusted to us to help bring back endangered species,” says IDNR Director Marc Miller. With the help of the trades’ expertise, IDNR hopes to remove the osprey from the endangered list within 20 years.

Osprey are more prevalent in Conn. In fact, so many have made nests on utility poles that they are threatened by electrocution, or local areas are in danger of power outages when the birds, with wingspans up to six feet, come in contact with high-voltage wires.

A recent story in ctpost.com details how IBEW linemen are helping relocate the birds. A photo accompanying the story shows two Connecticut Light and Power linemen in buckets relocating a nest.  An IBEW sticker is prominently displayed on one of the buckets. The company says the relocation was one of 20 performed by the company’s personnel.